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Question30 In what period did books of Noh chants become popular publications?

illustration

We are apt to believe that commoners gradually became indifferent to Noh yet familiar with Kabuki and Jōruri (puppet theatre) while the powerful samurai supported and enjoyed Noh. But that seems not to have been the case. From early times, “Su-utai,” which is the way we recite Noh lyrics without music, was one of the public entertainments performed at parties, and by the latter Muromachi era it had already become popular among wealthy merchants, as well as among the warrior and aristocratic classes. In the Edo era, although the opportunities for commoners to see actual plays were limited, the chanting of Noh lyrics gained popularity and spread nationwide.

It is said that in the Edo period, when the technology of publication shifted from hand copying to printing, as many as six hundred pieces were covered in publications. These were worthy of the name bestseller. The contents of the publications ranged from acting instructions to chanting techniques, knowledge of the art, and examinations of the differences between schools. The diversity of the contents suggests that people of various social classes, including commoners, had deep interest in the Noh art and zeal for Noh chants. Lovers of Noh held independent meetings, or Utai-kō, to enjoy Noh chant. It is one of the popular entertainments still in our time. The diffusion of the chanting books was one of the elements which have fundamentally supported the tradition of Noh.

(Jun 9, 2008)


illustration : Hiroko Sakaki
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